The Surprising Health Benefits of Chewing Gum
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Miller, MBChB
The Surprising Health Benefits of Chewing Gum
For many people, chewing gum is a relatively mindless activity — one you might do while working, driving or sitting in class. You may chew a piece of gum to ward off bad breath after a meal or to satisfy a craving for something sweet. However, most of us don’t stop to think about the health effects that gum can have on our bodies. Surprisingly, chewing gum has many positive health benefits and can even limit the development of certain health conditions.
The Cognitive Benefits of Chewing Gum
It might sound a bit strange, but chewing gum can benefit your brain in a number of interesting ways, from helping you focus to keeping you more wakeful.
- Gum Chewing Improves Concentration: Before heading to work each morning, you might have a cup of coffee (or two) to wake up and feel alert. Would you be surprised to learn that you could achieve a similar effect of alertness and concentration by chewing a piece of gum? Studies show that chewing gum can give your brain a boost and help with concentration. That boost may only last for an hour or so, but it can help wake your brain up and get you ready for the day.
- Gum Chewing Helps Stave Off Tiredness: If you find yourself hitting a midday slump, try chewing mint-flavored gum. Researchers at Coventry University determined that people who use mint-flavored gum tend to feel less sleepy after chewing it than they did before. The researchers also found that people tend to visually appear less sleepy after chewing mint gum.
- Gum Chewing Increases Blood Flow to the Brain: Chewing gum can also increase the flow of blood to your brain. This is important because an increase in blood flow means an increase in the amount of oxygen being delivered to your brain. An increase in oxygen, in turn, means that your memory’s processes can work more efficiently. A professor at the British Sciences Institute in Australia concluded that, by chewing gum, a person can improve their short-term memory by up to 35%.
- Gum Chewing Helps You Pay Attention: Other studies show that chewing gum can improve your attention span and induce a positive overall effect on mood. Research has demonstrated that students who chew gum while taking a test tend to have higher scores than their non-gum chewing peers. Students who chew gum also tend to take fewer breaks and have a greater attention span in the classroom setting.
Chewing Gum’s Effects on Your Appetite
It may not come as a surprise that the act of chewing can have an impact on your appetite. But it’s helpful to understand the ways in which it does, especially if you’re looking for some extra assistance in managing cravings or other digestive symptoms.
- Gum Chewing Can Suppress Your Appetite: Research shows that people who chew gum after eating lunch have fewer food cravings later in the day. A study presented by Louisiana State University researchers also concluded that subjects were less likely to eat high-calorie snacks if they’d chewed gum once an hour for three hours after eating lunch.
- Gum Chewing Can Reduce Cravings for Sweets: A study conducted at Glasgow University demonstrated that chewing gum can reduce a person’s craving for sweets, in addition to suppressing their appetite overall. Some additional studies have shown that people who chew sugar-free gum are even less likely to crave sweets. While diet and exercise are the healthiest ways to manage your weight, you may find gum helpful for those between-meal cravings.
- Gum Chewing May Decrease Nausea: Some people find that chewing mint- or ginger-flavored gum can help soothe an upset stomach or lessen feelings of nausea. This may be helpful for people who experience motion sickness or people who are pregnant and experiencing morning sickness.
The Health Benefits for the Rest of Your Body
Interestingly, chewing gum has a much wider variety of health benefits that extend past helping your appetite and your brain. From improving post-surgical recovery to boosting your overall oral health, the advantages of chewing a stick or two are numerous.
- Gum Chewing Can Prevent Tooth Decay: There’s no better way to prevent tooth decay than by brushing your teeth regularly. But because it’s not feasible to brush after every meal, chewing gum may be the next best thing. The American Dental Association recommends chewing a piece of sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after a meal if you aren’t able to brush your teeth. Chewing gum can stimulate the production of saliva, and the physical act of chewing and swishing that saliva around your mouth can help wash away bacteria on your teeth.
- Gum Chewing Can Prevent Acid Reflux: An increase in saliva production can also help prevent acid reflux and other symptoms of heartburn. Studies show that saliva can act like an antacid. In addition, the act of swallowing saliva can stimulate your stomach’s muscle walls, creating contractions that help you digest your food. Chewing gum after you experience a bout of acid reflux can help reduce the chance of dental enamel erosion occurring. For best results, chew sugar-free gum.
- Gum Chewing Can Help Your Intestines Recover Quickly After Surgery: One unexpected benefit of chewing gum is that it can help your intestines recover more quickly after abdominal surgery. Abdominal surgery can cause a person to experience difficulty passing gas or bowel movements in the days following the procedure. Studies show that patients who chewed gum after major abdominal surgery were able to start passing gas and bowel movements sooner than those who didn’t chew gum. The patients who chewed gum were also discharged from the hospital before those who didn’t chew gum. Researchers say this may happen in part because chewing gum “tricks” your body into thinking it’s eating a meal, which stimulates your digestive system, saliva production and the release of gastrointestinal hormones.
The next time you find yourself mindlessly snacking or in need of a boost, try grabbing a stick of gum. You might be surprised by the positive impact chewing gum can have on your health.